CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Monday, April 2, 2001
UI researcher looking for friendly skies receives $120,000 in grants
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Airport delays during bad weather may be greatly reduced
by providing pilots with computerized "pathway-in-the-sky" guidance
displays, according to a University of Iowa College of Engineering researcher.
Tom Schnell, assistant professor of industrial engineering and director
of the Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL) in the Center for Computer Aided
Design (CCAD), has been awarded a two-year, $120,000 grant to assess pilot
performance on flight decks equipped with guidance systems called synthetic
vision information systems (SVIS). The grant was awarded with funding from
Rockwell Collins; the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, which underwrites NASA
funding; and matching equipment funds from the University of Iowa.
Schnell, who is evaluating the SVIS system inside a flight simulator for
NASA and Rockwell, says it could revolutionize air travel. If successful,
it would allow commercial air carriers to make much better use of existing
airspace, permitting more planes to land safely during low visibility conditions.
"Many airport delays are caused by poor use of airspace, rather than
a lack of airspace," he says. "In the present airspace system, aircraft
on instrument flight plans are following airways and jet routes that do not
always allow for direct routing to the destination. Also, all pilots are required
to follow the same, strictly prescribed, instrument approach procedures in
instrument weather conditions when landing. However, under a new concept called
"free-flight," pilots will be able to go more or less directly from
origin to destination, and the instrument approach procedures may become more
efficient through the use of SVIS technology.
"SVIS gives the pilot a synthetic view (on a display) of what would
be seen out of the window if the weather were clear. In addition, weather
information and other air traffic may be shown on the SVIS displays. Therefore,
it is conceivable that SVIS will allow pilots to essentially fly 'visual'
approach procedures even in adverse weather. SVIS may result in getting airplanes
in and out of airports more efficiently," he says.
The SVIS concept is likely to facilitate the free-flight idea by offering
pilots a computer-generated pathway-in-the-sky, leading their plane along
the safest and shortest path to the destination airport runway. In addition,
the screen displays a real-time, computer-generated image of the airport and
the surrounding terrain, a view especially helpful during low-visibility operations
close to the ground. The pilot keeps the computerized symbol of the predicted
aircraft position centered on the pathway-in-the-sky all the way to a safe
SVIS may also be the key to avoiding runway incursions and loss of situation
awareness when taxiing the aircraft on the airport taxiways. Schnell notes
that the importance of crew situation awareness on the ground is especially
evident after Flight SQ006, a Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 bound for
Los Angeles, lined up and began to take off from the closed runway 05R (right)
instead of the longer adjacent runway designated 05L (left) last October.
Perhaps the biggest question regarding SVIS is how "user-friendly"
it would be for pilots and what, if anything. needs to be done to improve
the display format.
"Our job is to evaluate what information flight crews might need and
whether it is a good idea to give them more information than they already
have. We are evaluating several display formats in order to come up with recommendations
to make to NASA and Rockwell Collins. We are concerned about the human factors,"
says Schnell, who is also measuring pilot eye movements on the SVIS displays,
assessing pilot workloads and situation awareness. Later this year, airline
pilots will conduct actual test flights at Eagle Vail (Colorado) with the
SVIS-equipped NASA Boeing 757 research aircraft.
Until then, Schnell and the students he credits with having helped him construct
the simulator (including graduate student Sohel Merchant), will continue to
research the human factors issues surrounding SVIS. Additional information
can be found at http://boeing737-400.ccad.uiowa.edu/.
The project is part of a larger Synthetic Vision research effort sponsored
by NASA's Langley Research Center Aviation Safety Program (see http://www.syntheticvision.com/).
Other companies, agencies, and universities involved include NASA, Technical
University Delft (the Netherlands), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),
Boeing, Rockwell Collins, Jeppesen, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University,
RC Flight Dynamic, and American Airlines.